Shining A Light on “Dog Whistle Politics”

I just came across Ian Haney Lopez’s work on Bill Moyers’ site, and I found he did a TEDx talk last year as well. The interview and the talk are both worth watching.

Haney Lopez gives a lucid and compassionate analysis of how racial language that was once overt has morphed into code words. Politicians, especially those on the right, have effectively manipulated these code words to dismantle New Deal policies, not because they are racist but because they are in service to the plutocracy. The animus toward government–portrayed as the great coddler of racial minorities–they have groomed has weakened government and put the middle class on precarious footing.

Here’s a snippet from Haney Lopez’s interview on Moyers and Company:

“We have to understand the way in which something has fundamentally changed in American politics. We used to understand that the biggest threat in a political life was the power of concentrated money. The power of big money and of corporations to hijack the marketplace and to hijack government.

“But now, Republicans for 50 years have been telling voters, the biggest threat in your life is that minorities are going to hijack government. That government has been taken over and now serves them. So when white voters vote against the government, they think they’re voting against minorities. But in fact, they’re voting to give over control of government back to the very rich, back to the big corporations.”

Ian Haney Lopez’s book is The Dog Whistle Politics of Race: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.

Kluwe’s Long-Awaited Parting Shot to the Vikings

The pen is mightier than the punt


Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe clearly laid out his case yesterday for why he thinks his outspoken views on gay marriage cost him his job with the Vikings.

The Vikings are taking his claims seriously, as they should, but there are factors in the organization’s favor that would make it tough for Kluwe to prove his case that he was fired for non-football reasons. Kluwe pointed them out himself in postulating why he didn’t get a punting position with another team–he’s old (for football), his minimum salary is a lot higher than that of a new punter, and his tendency to speak his mind on controversial topics is a distraction to the team.

The outcome of all this will probably come down to Kluwe’s number one goal–ending Coach Mike Priefer’s future in football. The lawyers for the Vikings will certainly thoroughly investigate Priefer’s alleged statement, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”

I was shocked by the alleged hate speech, but it probably wouldn’t have surprised me just ten years ago, because gay-bashing was so ingrained in our culture until recent times. If the statement doesn’t yet strike a person as beyond the pale, they should try replacing the word “gays” with other groups such as “Jews,” “women,” “blacks,” “developmentally disabled people,” or “old timers.” It’s disgusting.

Homophobia may be alive and well among many of the coaches and players (or not–I have no idea), but the front offices are savvy about PR, and they know that kind of garbage doesn’t fly the way it used to. The Vikings are building a new stadium, and they have posh, pricey private suites to fill. The team is a few longboats short of mediocre, and a reputation for harboring homophobes could scare away some of their well-heeled clients.

Priefer has every reason to deny Kluwe’s charges while Kluwe doesn’t have readily apparent reasons to lie. There would be rationales for typically loud-mouthed Kluwe not to speak up, because his account of Priefer’s remarks will drag his former teammates into the investigation. I wonder if he has figured out if anybody will back him up, because the players who still have their paychecks and playing time on the line have–let’s face it–financial reasons for not remembering. If Kluwe is being honest in his characterization of Priefer, what he’s doing is courageous. Whoever would step forward and validate his account, though, might be even braver.


Phil Robertson Gets Down and Nasty

Phil Robertson


Duck Dynasty is a televised paean to pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps ingenuity and God-fearing, capitalism-loving allegiance to country. I’ve never watched an episode of the show, but links to it–or references to it–are all over my Facebook news feed. My extended family is nuts for Duck Dynasty.

After reading Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, I think a more apt title for the show would be Loon Legacy.

First, if I were one of Phil’s kids, reading his comments about the recesses of my mother’s vagina would send me straight to a therapist. I can’t find where the Bible evaluates the pros and cons of penile penetration of vaginas vs. anuses, but my Facebook circles are adamant that Robertson’s comments are Biblically-based. Now that’s just a stretch. (Inappropriate joke self-censored here.)

Second, I’m baffled by Robertson’s comments about black people being happier during Jim Crow. Did Phil miss the racial violence and disparities of his youth while enveloped in a cloud of illicit smoke? I would accept drugs as an answer, otherwise, how could a person possibly be that blind? Maybe he has spent his entire life behind a duck blind?

Third, why did A&E suspend him? Knee-jerk reaction? It’s not a free speech thing, because it’s a corporate decision rather than a government one. But A&E surely knows their audience. Its fans love this stuff–the show validates their world view. Phil will be back, and the audience’s loyalty has been reinvigorated. If A&E plays this right, they’ll draw even more viewers. If it plays it wrong, the show will just move to a new channel. The lowest common denominator will win the day.

The best we can do in a situation like this is to keep raising the lowest common denominator. It really is getting higher, it’s just imperceptible when you look at it from day-to-day instead of from year-to-year.

On that note, happy New Year! Ring out the false, ring in the true. (Regards to Lord Alfred Tennyson.)

Jim Crow II, how do you do?

Two decades ago, one of my friends was arrested for having marijuana in plain sight during a routine traffic stop. He got a slap on the wrist for it, and nothing went on his record. He felt his privilege as a white college student insulated him from the harsher penalties the judge could have given him, and it troubled him that if he were black or brown, he might not have been given similar treatment.

As I’m reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, I see how my friend’s lingering doubts are disturbingly real. Hinging on that one incident, his life could have turned out completely differently if the judge had been facing a black visage instead of a white one.


Alexander lays out a compelling and uncomfortable case that we have created a powerful new caste system, under the guise of the War on Drugs, and most people aren’t aware of its existence. Indeed, its invisibility, or “colorblindness”, is what makes it so powerful. For nearly thirty years, the War on Drugs has garnered political support from conservatives and liberals alike. While it hasn’t reduced drug use, Alexander’s book is a call to do some deep soul-searching about what the War on Drugs has effectively done: remove a substantial portion of black men from society.

As she states it:

It is simply taken for granted that, in cities like Baltimore and Chicago, the vast majority of young black men are currently under the control of the criminal justice system or branded criminals for life. This extraordinary circumstance–unheard of in the rest of the world–is treated here in America as a basic fact of life, as normal as separate water fountains were just a half century ago.

Ouch. I feel stupid now, like, why did it take me until now to see something that obvious in full relief? Democrats and Republicans have been complicit, consciously or unconsciously, of creating and maintaining the new system. The damage is unbelievable, the waste of human potential enormous. It’s a tragedy on the individual level, a wrecking-ball force on communities, and a drain on society. It’s time for redemption, and definitely not the southern-style “Redemption” following Reconstruction.

New Jim Crow, it’s time to go. Dismantle the War on Drugs.

The No-Account Message Behind the Avuncular Smile

Reagan quote


I think the irony of the kind of individualism expressed in this quote is that it allows more individuals to be trampled. When an individual fails, to some extent it’s also usually a family failure, a community failure, and a societal failure. In this way of thinking, though, the individual is the only one that is held accountable. Everyone else is absolved.

Don’t get me wrong, individuals need to be held accountable for their actions, but society has a responsibility to help give them better opportunities in the first place. It’s neither public-spirited nor Christian to tell a kid from tough circumstances, “You’re on your own. Whatever you do, it’s on you, not us.”

Reagan had a special way of delivering these messages with a friendly wink. When anybody else says it, it just sounds mean-spirited. No wonder conservatives miss him so much.

The Human Cost of Cheap Clothes


Families grieve for loved ones trapped under rubble near Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo Credit: Reuters)

In the latest clothing factory disaster in Bangladesh, over 360 are confirmed dead and hundreds are still missing in a collapsed building. Over 350 died in factory fires last fall in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Problems like poor working conditions, low wages, and lax oversight are usually invisible to us, but we drive the demand. Women’s clothing barely costs more now than it did in 1980, largely due to the collapse of the US clothing industry and the rise of overseas sweatshops. Please be conscious of where your clothes were made, and be willing to buy fewer items at higher prices when you know the clothes were made in better conditions.

I’ve bought several items from American Apparel, but I haven’t been crazy about their fit. Mainly I just buy “second market” to avoid supporting any sweatshops directly, but I’m still benefiting from the glut of cheap clothing purchased and then quickly pared from people’s closets.

Gosnell: A Glimpse Back to “The Worst of Times”

The invisible poor. (Image source: Photobucket)


I’ve read about all I can on the stomach-churning Gosnell case for now.

It’s confounding how Gosnell operated for so long–the clinic should have been shut down a long time ago for alleged illegal procedures (abortions after 24 weeks being one of a long list). From what I’ve read, his clients were mainly poor, underserved, desperate women. One of the worst insults to justice is that he didn’t even get thoroughly investigated after a woman (who was both a mother and a grandmother) died. He got caught because of a “pill mill” sting.

The news value of the story is obvious, but I think the reason this didn’t get picked up earlier is that his clientele is mainly invisible. I don’t know if it’s a liberal bias like some people claim–this could just as easily make conservative media uneasy because he was practically operating as an illegal abortionist, the way it almost all was done before Roe vs. Wade.

Abortions are not primarily about lack of morals, they’re about economics. We have to change the economics–access to contraception, education, jobs, child care, health care, affordable housing, etc.–to reduce abortions. Criminalization would put a lot of people like Gosnell in business without necessarily reducing abortions. (This is often the case in countries where abortions are illegal. Some of these countries have much higher abortion rates than the US, and many women die or suffer life-threatening infections.) The money would draw them, and their clients wouldn’t rat them out, just like Gosnell’s didn’t. That’s how it was before Roe in the US–a lot of illegal abortionists preyed upon desperate women.

The book “The Worst of Times” by Patricia Miller is an eye-opening, gut-wrenching primer on what it was like for women seeking to end pregnancies before 1973. I recommend it, even though it is emotionally tough to read. I wanted to stop reading it at several points, but I felt like I had to listen to the women and men who were bearing witness to those times.

I’m glad this case is finally getting attention. That kind of horror should never happen. We can’t let these women be invisible, and we can’t go back to the way things were.

Book Review: FAT Chance

fat chance 2


I tip my hat to Dr. Robert Lustig for writing this vital book. It’s a readable manifesto mixing hard science with an urgent call for reforming our food environment. He convincingly dismantled a lot of what I “knew” about fat and diet. This book may help produce a fundamental shift in the way we view obesity, and I would love to see the scales finally tip against the food industry, especially its veritable cornucopia of processed foods with added sugar. (80% of our food choices in the US are laced with added sugar, in case you were wondering.)


Lustig continually assaults the notion that people are in control of what they eat. Although he provides a long list of culprits, the standout villain in our obesity pandemic is sugar, specifically fructose, and it has many enablers, most notably the food industry and the US government. Profligate added sugar in the “global industrial diet” has literally shaped us. Overconsumption of sugar is one of the main causes of metabolic syndrome (primarily among obese people, but also among 40% of “normal” weight people). Metabolic syndrome is among the biggest public health threats facing our country, and it’s a big, slow-moving disaster, driving up the costs of health care as people who have it experience decades of expensive chronic illnesses.


One thing is obvious: It’s time for sugar to get a new designation from the FDA. Sugar’s generally regarded as safe (GRAS) status is an outdated, costly, and deadly mistake.


FAT Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. By Robert Lustig, M.D. 2012: Hudson Street Press.

Recent Examples of Why Conservatives/Republicans Continue to Turn Off Black Voters

I’ve been struck by a number of instances lately of rank insensitivity to blacks and black voters on the part of conservatives and Republicans, so I pulled together a number of them below:




1. Three Hours to Vote

Two weeks ago on Fox News, Brian Kilmeade, Bill Hemmer, and Martha MacCallum used up air time questioning what the big deal is that 102-year-old Desaline Victor, a black woman, had to wait 3 hours in line to vote last fall.

Can we go ahead and agree that nobody in an industrialized, high-tech democracy like the United States should have to wait in line three hours to vote? I had to take my two young children to the poll with me, and we got in and out of there in about 10 minutes. If I had had to wait for three hours, it would have been extremely difficult for me to vote. Standing in line for just an extra half hour would have been tough. I sympathize with anybody who had to wait a long time.

For some of Fox News’ broadcasters to laugh about this woman’s ordeal is really beyond the pale. It’s dismissive of black people (and Hispanics) who are much more likely to have to wait in long lines to vote, and it’s also disrespectful toward older Americans. They should pull their heads out of the conservative echo chamber and get some fresh air to their brains.

2. Electoral College Deform

In the Virginia statehouse, a Republican senator proposed electoral college reform that would apportion Virginia’s electoral votes based on voting results within congressional districts.

The proposed plan, if it had been in place in 2012, would have given Mitt Romney more electoral votes in Virginia, even though Obama received a majority of the state’s popular vote. The justification for the plan goes something like this: State Senator Charles Carrico of Grayson County “wants to give smaller communities a bigger voice. ‘The last election, constituents were concerned that it didn’t matter what they did, that more densely populated areas were going to outvote them,’ he said.”

Well, yes, Virginia’s rural Republican votes meant nothing in the Electoral College in 2012, because they were in the statewide minority. The fact that the Electoral College negates them does not mean the solution is to render them the majority by making their votes count more than Democrat urban people’s votes. That would make the Electoral College even more anti-democratic.

The racial implications of this proposal are clear because Virginia’s black population (20% of the total population) is concentrated in urban areas, and they heavily favored Democrats.

3. Ann Coulter’s Demographic Problem

Ann Coulter suggested on Sean Hannity’s program in January that a high gun homicide rate for black people is not a problem. “If you compare white populations, we have the same murder rate as Belgium,” Coulter said. “So perhaps it’s not a gun problem, it’s a demographic problem.”

People, no matter what color or ethnicity, getting killed with guns at the rate the US experiences is a gun problem. It would be accurate to say, though, that our problem with gun violence has demographic dimensions.

Ann Coulter seems to think that real racism is over. Based on her comments, judge for yourself.

4. Imagining Martin Luther King Jr. as a Gun Rights Advocate

In January, Gun Appreciation Day chair Larry Ward said on CNN, “I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country’s founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history.”

This is historical revisionism that goes haywire on so many levels. MLK jr.’s main message was non-violence. To see a more in-depth evaluation, watch Al Sharpton take Larry Ward apart here.

Perhaps Larry Ward got Martin Luther King Jr. mixed up with the Black Panthers?

5. Sarah Palin Unapologetically Using Racially-Charged Expression

On her Facebook page, Sarah Palin posted the following statement a couple weeks before the 2012 election:
“Why the lies? Why the cover up? Why the dissembling about the cause of the murder of our ambassador on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil? We deserve answers to this. President Obama’s shuck and jive shtick with these Benghazi lies must end.”

“Shuck and jive” originally was a reference to the actions of American slaves when they “sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season, and this behavior, along with lying and teasing, became a part of the protective and evasive behavior normally adopted towards white people.” (Dictionary of American Slang)

Palin went into defensive posture and called Chris Matthews and Andrew Cuomo out for previously using the term, and then she meandered into a discussion of how she talks to her one-eighth Native Alaskan children. (Andrew Cuomo used the term in 2008 toward Obama, and he had the good sense to later apologize for his choice of words. Chris Matthews used it in describing Rachel Maddow’s journalistic work as he was interviewing Maddow.)

Given its historical context, it’s a term that should be used with caution, and it’s not advisable for white people to use it in reference to the actions of black people (or probably anybody else). It’s like a man attributing a female leader’s actions to PMS. It’s just bad form.

So, that’s my round-up, and I didn’t even get started on the idea of Democrats offering so-called “gifts” to minorities.

Misciting Government Statistics

I ran across a doozy statistic yesterday on a FB page for “1 Million Moms and Women for the Second Amendment.” I guess the group is a response to the One Million Moms For Gun Control.

Anyway, one of the statistics they quoted in a picture was, “550 rapes and 1100 murders are prevented every DAY, just by showing a gun. -Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victims survey.” Here is the link.

First, that statistic seems out of whack. Consider that if you multiply 1,100 prevented murders per day by 365, you end up with over 400,000 prevented murders for the year. Now, I suppose some people might save their lives multiple times a year with a gun, so it wouldn’t necessarily represent 400,000 total lives. (I have no idea what a person would be doing to have to save their life multiple times a year with a gun, but unless they’re an officer of the law, being law-abiding is probably not one of them.)

Second, that statistic doesn’t look like something put out by the Justice Department. Turns out, it’s not. After doing a little digging online and contacting the BJS, I found that the source of that statistic is mostly likely Gary Kleck, a criminologist from Florida State University.

Here is part of the response I got from the BJS (in less than 24 hours):

“The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) does not collect data on the number of crimes “prevented” by armed citizens. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) collects limited information on self-protective measures using the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).  We have information on whether a victim used a weapon in self-defense during a criminal incident. These data are in tables 70 and 71 of the Criminal victimization tables:

And as for Kleck’s research:

“There is considerable disagreement over estimates of the defensive uses of guns. For example, the widely cited statistic from a 1995 study conducted by Prof. Gary Kleck states a figure of 2.5 million self-defense incidents with a gun a year.

However, other studies raise a number of questions about the validity and reliability of these estimates:

So, there you have it. I find it interesting that gun rights advocates are often distrustful of government, but don’t seem to mind using government sources (even mistakenly) if it fits their bill. And for my part, I don’t like to see government statistics misrepresented.

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